The evolution of Nudge

Nudge is a communication service to connect case managers and families experiencing homelessness in-between face-to-face meetings. We believe that strategically increasing the amount of low-key communication will enable case managers to serve clients better, enable clients to reach out for help, save time on both ends, and increase the support available to families. This increased support will help families stay on-track as they move toward achieving their goals.

My biggest takeaway from the quarter:

Research is no excuse to delay designing.Design is no excuse to stop researching.

Ryan and I have been through multiple, overlapping research/synthesis/prototype cycles during the process of Nudge. Part of this was due to logistics: since the beginning of the quarter, we have been wanting to partner with a local organization who works with families experiencing homelessness, but our ability to meet with one only came through during the last week of the quarter. After procrastinating for a few weeks at the beginning of the quarter waiting on interviews that kept getting rescheduled, we plunged in and started designing in the spirit of rapid prototyping. After all, we did have all of our knowledge from the class’s 8 weeks of research, my previous conversations with teen moms in shelter, and Ryan’s discussions with people in AA to inform our best guesses. We had gotten to a point where we had a framework for a theory of change—help people strengthen support networks to increase success and prevent return to homelessness. So we stopped talking, and we started making.

And we kept talking to people. We were doing many steps in the design process simultaneously: research, synthesis, design, development. During the process, I felt like we were getting sidetracked, and I questioned whether we should still be doing “research” and scheduling interviews. For instance, we couldn’t talk to any families, so we talked to some people at ARCH and in transitional housing. This confused us for awhile because these clients—who have experienced chronic homelessness, addiction, and intensive case management—have very different needs than families who are temporarily homeless. But we wouldn’t have figured that out without having done those interviews. Each time, we came out with more “clay” to work with. True, we needed more time to synthesize those experiences, but the culminating insights were valuable. And when things started clicked during the last week of the quarter, and I was finally able to fit our Nudge product into a compelling story framework that made sense with our research and the needs of the people we’ve been talking to, it felt pretty magical.

Each time we did anything—whether that was an interview, moving forward with our coded prototype, or drafting our story—it felt like we could get deeper and more specific. At one point or another, our project has evolved through the following themes: co-design, safety nets, asset protection, stress release, support systems, mood-tracking, and communication. Our focus has now landed on the specific need of “communication of case managers and families experiencing temporary homelessness in-between face-to-face meetings.”

It reconfirms for me the value of rapid prototyping—even if it’s oftentimes difficult to just start. Also, the quick cycles of research/synthesize/prototype feel akin to agile software development. Lastly, it reminds me that the design process is messy, individual, and unique to the needs of each project and project team…I’m starting to embrace that messiness and have to keep reminding myself that there is no right “answer” to where we should be in the process. The only wrong answer is to do nothing.

Up next for us:

  • Talk to and co-design with families
  • Pilot Nudge with case managers and clients (or some other group: high school teacher and students maybe?)
  • Answer lots of really hard questions as we try to wrap a business model around Nudge
  • Talk to people in the mobile space or who have worked on mobile projects. Please email us if you have any suggestions.